Fellow gallerybloggerytype David Akin lays out the latest gossip from the Hill berryvine on the race for the Speaker’s chair, which – if he and the CBC parliamentary bureau are right – may turn out to be a real race this time around, rather than just a pro forma victory for the current occupant, Peter Milliken.
According to Akin, a “smart and enthusiastic Hill staffer” told him that the Tories are gunning for Milliken’s job – not because they’ve had any particular problem with his performance as Speaker, but because they think losing the post that Milliken has described as his “dream job” job would be so devastating that he would retire from political life and resign his seat, leaving the onetime Progressive Conservative stronghold of Kingston and the Islands ripe for the byelection plucking. Which, as cunning plans go, does have a certain flair, but relies heavily on a Rube Goldbergian chain of events, beginning with an upset victory over the incumbent – something that hasn’t happened in the 22 years that the House has been electing its Speaker by secret ballot.
Both Akin and the CBC parliamentary bureau blog Political Bytes have reported that at least two Conservatives have let it be known that they’re going to stand for election: Andrew Scheer, currently one of Milliken’s deputy speakers, and Merv Tweed, who is not, and who – at least, as far as ITQ can tell – has never before shown the slightest interest in the Speaker’s gig. He did, however, serve as chair of the comparatively non-dysfunctional Transport committee during the last parliament.
Intriguingly, Political Bytes makes no reference to the possibility that the government may be engineering Milliken’s defeat in order to snatch up his seat at a later date, although there is, apparently, already some grumbling within Tory circles that the fix may be in: If the opposition doesn’t gang up on the government to install its speaker of choice – Milliken, presumably, although that’s not a sure thing, then the government will likely “encourage” the caucus MPs to back Milliken, which would send exactly the right sort of we’re-here-to-make-Parliament-work signal to the opposition.
PB describes that thinking as “cynical” – but it’s not nearly cynical as the ITQ’s current working theory, which is as follows: PMO is, for the most part, satisfied with Milliken’s performance during the last parliament, particularly his strict non-interventionalist approach,which was the reason behind his adamant refusal to wade into the various committee quagmires that so infuriated the opposition.
More importantly, the government may have no intention of giving up even a single vote in the Commons just to have one of its own MPs in the Speaker’s chair; there is, after all, no guarantee that a Conservative speaker – even one handpicked by PMO – would simply follow orders from on high, and allow themselves to be used as a catspaw to bat forward the government’s legislative agenda. In fact, it’s more likely that he or she would bend over backwards to demonstrate his or her absolute impartiality, and earn the respect – and trust – of the opposition parties. (Some more embittered Liberals would suggest that’s exactly what Milliken did during his first term as Speaker for a minority Conservative government.)
Taking all that into account, from the government’s perspective, a Speaker in the hand – who likely wouldn’t be, as noted above – really isn’t worth the effort, even if it’s just one step towards a future byelection victory in the bush. Our prediction: Obedient Conservatives will back Milliken, on the assumption that the opposition parties will rally around the incumbent; Merv Tweed will return to the backbench obscurity from whence he so recently – and unexpectedly – emerged; Andrew Scheer – who, for the record, would make a very fine Speaker in ITQ’s opinion – will be stuck, for the moment at least, supervising after-hours debates in a mostly empty Commons chamber; and Peter Milliken’s reign of judicious non-activism will continue for the foreseeable future.